Cade Cunningham, healthy, bulked-up and playing with a renewed sense of confidence, looks every bit the part of a franchise player. Jalen Duren is in the midst of a major second-year leap, quickly establishing himself as one of basketball's top prospects on the interior. Alec Burks has been a revelation off the bench, and Jaden Ivey—with fellow former lottery pick Killian Hayes starting ahead of him in the backcourt—is doing all the little things on both sides of the ball that eluded him during a rocky rookie season.

There's plenty of individual and team-wide optimism springing from the Detroit Pistons' start to 2023-24. The influence of Monty Williams is already palpable in Detroit, which has suddenly emerged as among basketball's most promising young teams during an eye-opening first week of the regular season.

Dominant as Cunningham and Duren have been at times, though, no player has personified the new-look Pistons' throwback identity better than Ausar Thompson.

The rookie's record-breaking five-block debut wasn't some random, adrenaline fueled one-off nor any indication of opponents underestimating his rare blend of physical tools and anticipation. Thompson, it turns out, simply entered the league as a top-flight defender, the type of ultra-disruptive wing both on and off the ball teams spend years trying to draft, sign and develop.

Ausar Thompson is already wreaking havoc defensively in Detroit

Detroit Pistons, Ausar Thompson, NBA Summer League

Not many rookies are even tasked with checking the opponent's best perimeter player every night, let alone are effective playing such a significant, difficult role from the moment their careers tipoff. But Williams and his coaching staff saw something special in Ausar Thompson early in training camp, intentionally overloading the former Overtime Elite star with information, drills and assignments to hasten his growth as quickly as possible.

“We've loaded him up mentally, so his head is probably spinning and other things right now. But I don't mind that. I think stress allows for all of us to grow in capacity. The more you're stressed out, the more stuff we throw at him allows for him to grow, but then it also tells me who he is and how we can help him,” Williams said of Thompson on October 5th, per James Edwards of The Athletic. “We've stressed him out, we've hit him with a lot. But he has physical gifts and natural playing ability that allows him to overcome some things that he might not know. We think he's gonna be phenomenal. We think he's gonna be an intricate part of our team, and there's a chance that could happen right away.”

Even Williams has to be surprised at just how fast Thompson has acclimated to the NBA game. His block party in the Pistons' hard-fought season-opening loss to the Miami Heat proved Thompson had the physical chops to make an immediate impact defensively. There's a massive gulf between racking up counting stats on defense and locking up superstar ball handlers while thriving as a help defender within the team context, though—just ask Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Oklahoma City Thunder's franchise player dropped 32 points on the Pistons in a home win over Detroit on Monday, but don't blame Thompson. Gilgeous-Alexander might be the toughest player to guard in basketball other than Nikola Jokic, a dizzying handle, remarkable body control and ever-increasing strength allowing him to do pretty much whatever he wants with the ball. Thompson didn't just hold his in one-on-one battles with Gilgeous-Alexander, but often left their clashes victorious.

Thompson held Gilgeous-Alexander to 2-of-8 shooting and forced three turnovers when they locked horns on Monday, per While matchup data is always fickle, those gaudy numbers actually paint a less impressive portrait of Thompson's lockdown defense on Gilgeous-Alexander than the eye test.

Gilgeous-Alexander really is the best penetrator in basketball. You just wouldn't have known it watching Thompson so effortlessly mirror his movements in isolation defense during Detroit's loss to Oklahoma City.

When was the last time you saw a primary defender swallow SGA's shot attempt on the drive not once, but twice in the same game?

It's that last sequence that separates Thompson from other similarly dogged one-on-one defenders in recent years. His innate feel and freakish athleticism defensively extend to the other side of the ball, where Thompson's transition prowess and cutting ability help compensate for his work-in-progress jumper.

The 20-year-old finished a pair of towering alley-oops on fast breaks against Oklahoma City, but also jumpstarted Detroit's running game himself on multiple occasions, turning defense into offense.

Thompson, like the Pistons, is a long way from a finished product. He won't reach his All-Star or All-NBA ceiling without threatening defenses from deep, which is also the key to him developing into a dynamic secondary ball handler alongside Cunningham. Even without a reliable jump shot, though, Thompson's path to impacting winning at levels reserved for basketball's best players is already obvious, elite rebounding and canny passing included. Lofty pre-draft comparisons to prime Andre Iguodala somehow seem real.

Detroit has plenty of time to worry about the future, though. For now, Detroit can just bask in the glow of adding another surefire foundational building block next to Cunningham and Duren, watching Ausar Thompson make life hell for opposing stars throughout 2023-24.